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Ravenheart Music: Interviews

ANI RITZEL (DHARMA) INTERVIEW

Dharma_band2.jpg
A band that has caught my attention just recently is the Hungarian Band Dharma. They have recently released their 2nd full length album 'Dharmageddon', that I have recently reviewed on this very site (8.75/10). I sent their singer Ani Ritzel an email asking if I could interview her. The answer was a resounding "yes", so here it is!

Hi Ani, I hope you do not mind me taking the opportunity of asking you a few questions regards your musical career and your involvement with a band that is fast becoming a fave of mine – that band is Dharma, who hail from Hungary. When did you realise that you wanted to become a musician?
Well, since I can remember being a little girl, I think I always used to sing and dance in front of the TV a lot, my first favourites were ABBA and Madonna, it’s pretty fortunate that my father has an excellent taste in music too, so the family was always listening to great stuff like Queen or Led Zeppelin. I think I decided to become a singer long before I was even born, haha.

And leading on from that, how did you become involved in the music business itself?
I went to music school from the age of 6 and did piano and music theory for about 8 years. I had a very good friend in high school - she played piano and I we used to perform together at school events, mostly songs by Evanescence and Within Temptation, we started listening to rock and metal around that time. Then in the 10th grade we met people who I knew were the right ones to start a band with, so we formed our first band and we played mostly gothic metal cover songs and it was pretty successful in the area. Then everyone moved away because of university studies and other band projects evolved very soon...

You are indeed not Dharma’s original vocalist, so how did you get involved with the band?
I have known Dharma for a couple of years before they parted ways with the old singer. I’ve known her and the guys through common friends in the Budapest ‘dark scene’, although I didn’t have a band at that time and they didn’t know I was a singer. However, I always thought that the band’s style was a very good mixture of also my different musical preferences and when they started ‘casting’ a new singer, I applied for the job – and got it right after the 2nd rehearsal.

Can you introduce us to the guys in the band?
Alright so basically there are 3 guys in the band, Laci on guitars, Gergö on bass and András on drums. All of them are founding members of Dharma and have been doing this since 2007. After many years of playing with musicians in different bands, male and female, I began to think that either I have bad luck, or all of them must be mental. *laugh* When I joined Dharma, I finally realised that there is hope. These guys are very cool and easy to handle and I can’t tell how happy I am about this. ;)

Are you able to tell us anything about previous Dharma releases?
There was an EP recorded in 2007, then in mid-2008 the band returned to the studio and signed a worldwide digital release agreement with the legendary Poison Tree Records (Santa Monica, CA). 2009 Heavenly Hell was released on CD, and there are 2 videos available for the songs “Closest to” by Mesmer and the remastered version of „Icon”. In 2010 Heavenly Hell was nominated for the Hungarian Metal Award for Debut of the Year. In August 2010 August a new EP called ‘NRG’ was recorded which was a bit more electronic/industrial, but still pretty heavy. Then in autumn 2011 Nicia finally parted ways with the band and I joined in on the 11.11.11 at 11:11 PM :)

So one of my numbers for the next Lotto then is eleven :). You live in Germany if I am correct, but can you tell us what the Rock and Metal scene is like in Dharma’s home country of Hungary?
Yes I moved (back) to Germany about 4 months ago, but I spent the last 3 years in Budapest and the 3 years before that in Szeged, a beautiful university town in the south-east of Hungary. The rock and metal scene of Hungary is... let’s say tight. There are many many bands, some of them amazingly good but there’s a bunch of problems to handle. There aren’t many clubs that have a solid sound system but are not out in the ghetto. The good venues are mostly taken for international artists or a handful of Hungarian bands who play the same heavy metal since 1985, but are still popular. Everything else is pretty much underground, but if you look hard enough you’ll always find a good event in Budapest and the university towns – if you live in other cities or villages I’m afraid you’ll have to throw coins in the music box and listen to SOAD’s Chop Suey, and drink, a lot. :)

I have to admit to having a liking for your vocals, that lean more towards a pop rock style than the more operatic style that some female vocalists adopt. Have you had any vocal training in the past or does it just come naturally?
I’ve had vocal lessons for some years, but it was mainly classical. Which doesn’t mean opera but it doesn’t really involve modern music or jazz. It was the right thing for me at that time and I also used sing songs by Nightwish and After Forever back then. But at some point, imagining all the evil metal guys in the background shredding their guitars and me wearing like a ball gown or something... I think I just grew out of this. And since I listen to many different genres, also quality pop like Christina Aguilera or things like Amy Winehouse, but still adoring my old Lacuna Coil albums, that’s what comes out as a result.

Talking about the latest Dharma release ‘Dharmageddon’, how would you describe the style of music to those people that have not heard of the band before?
I think it’s like a mix of the previous album and the EP, but still a little different. On one hand it is pretty simple and catchy, on the other hands it also has heavier tracks and deep lyrics. Many different samples are used on it too so I think if you push play and listen through all 10 songs, you probably won’t be bored.

Was the recording process simple, or did it have its problems?
Of course everyone had their parts where they had to fight a bit more, or take a break and a beer or a gulp of Jägermeister, but i think overall it went quite easy. All songs were ready and we didn’t have to edit much on site, we just had to focus on doing a good job and having fun.

How do you view the female fronted rock scene across Europe at the moment, and what are your expectations of the female rock and metal scene as a whole in Europe and indeed across the USA?
I have realised that the ‘team spirit’ within the female fronted rock and metal scene has grown recently, unfortunately it’s still mostly the already famous and well-known bands that benefit from this. They make promotions for each others’ bands and organise events with each other, but the newcomers are rarely mentioned, except for a few enthusiastic journalists and review. Of course the professional bands are way better produced and sound more pleasant, but I still think that many of them play quite the same. While In This Moment or the Kidneythieves or even Guano Apes (a big all-time fav!) are at least are a bit different and they try to do something new instead of playing the same opera metal that bands used to play in the 1990’s already. I wish there would be more of these. I’m afraid I don’t know much about the US scene, but I wish we could go and play there at some time in the future, as well as in Western Europe, and not necessarily along with other female fronted bands, but with great bands and musicians of all kinds, and singers of both genders.

Musically and spiritually who/what are your inspirations at the moment, and what sort of music are you listening to when you are chilling out or relaxing?
Well I admit, it’s mostly singers who are in focus for me. Besides the great ones like Freddy Mercury, there are also a few recent artists who I adore for what they do and how they’re doing it. As the top 3 singers that I listen to the most at the moment, I would list Daniel Tompkins (ex-Tesseract, Skyharbor, In Colour), Jesse Leach (Killswitch Engage, Times of Grace) and Chino Moreno (Deftones). It may come as a surprise, but for me it doesn’t matter if male or female, what matters is the overall performance and the feeling that one puts into the songs. In the past, Anneke van Giersbergen from the Gathering has been a great inspiration for me too, I still think she has the most beautiful voice on earth. Also her later replacement, Silje Wergeland is a big favourite of mine, mostly because of her former work with Octavia Sperati. So I’ve been listening to more heavier stuff recently and I’m also pretty much amazed by this new Djent wave... let’s see if it will take effect on the new album...

Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of music?
I’ve been quite enthusiastic with martial arts for several years, then there were times when the schedule was a bit too tight and I couldn’t continue doing it on a regular basis. As I’m now back in Germany (I used to live here for a couple of years during high school), I’m very glad that I have regained many of my friends and fellows from that time and I’m again able to attend training sessions and workshops again. Apart from that, I’m into IT stuff at work and can be quite a nerd sometimes... I periodically start sewing clothes and making for example things like the steam punk accessories in our first video “One by One”, but this usually only lasts until I’m done with the project or freak out over the mess and the actual results and then quit it for several months again... ;)

If you had a choice, what band or artist would you just love to tour and hang out with?
Hard question! I think famous people are just normal people, and some of them are probably not as spectacular, as everyone thinks. However, some interesting counterexamples happened to me this year when I met for example Benji from Skindred who is a very cool guy, and I was hanging out with Ill Niño for a couple of days, who are are one of the greatest people the world has ever known. I’d love to meet them any time again, but of course the ones on my musical inspirations’ list would be more then welcome too. Apart from poor Freddy of course. :)
Who to tour with is a hard question, we’ve been thinking about this for a long time and we aren’t pretty sure what kind of bands would fit with the genre, or could complete us in a way. Anyhow, I prefer easy people, down-to-earth people, no matter what they do and where they come from.

Do you know if Dharma will be touring at all during 2013?
We’re doing a French tour, if everything works out fine, it should be between the 7th and the 15th of February, beginning in Paris and ending in Besançon, maybe there will be 1 or 2 German shows before or after this period too, but this is still under organisation. Anyway, I think it will be a huge fun. Apart from that, we’re only planning club shows for the first part of the year, working on new stuff in the meantime. And then it would be great if we could play at some festival s, but the applications are still open.

Many thanks for your time Ani, is there anything you would like to say to anybody before we sign off?
People from UK, or whoever will be reading this interview, make sure you keep listening to great music and go to concerts and live shows because that’s how you can support bands the most at the moment – and so make sure they don’t break up for financial reasons. These are pretty hard times in the music industry, let’s get together and fight it! Thank you for reading all this text and have a wonderful day!!
Dave Smith (Dec 11, 2012)